NASA has successfully regained communication with its interstellar probe, Voyager 2, following a two-week interruption caused by an erroneous command. The spacecraft had been inadvertently pointed away from Earth on July 21, leading to a data blackout for the mission science team stationed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.
NASA maintains communication with the paired Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft using its ground antenna system, referred to as the Deep Space Network (DSN). On July 21, NASA encountered a loss of contact with Voyager 2 due to a sequence of pre-planned commands that inadvertently caused a 2-degree shift in the spacecraft's antenna away from Earth.
Originally, the interruption in data transmission was expected to persist until an automatic adjustment in October. However, the teams opted to utilize the Deep Space Network antenna located in Australia. Their aim was to transmit the accurate command, targeting the intended destination over a staggering distance of more than 12.3 billion miles from Earth.
Linda Spilker, the Voyager project scientist at NASA's JPL, remarked that waiting until October felt like a considerable duration.
In a recent announcement on Friday, NASA confirmed the success of the "interstellar shout," resulting in the restoration of data transmission from Voyager 2. The spacecraft autonomously adjusted its orientation, aligning its antenna once again with Earth.
According to the space agency, it required approximately 18.5 hours for the command to travel to Voyager, and an additional 37 hours for controllers to ascertain its effectiveness.
"At 12:29 a.m. EDT on Aug. 4, the spacecraft began returning science and telemetry data, indicating it is operating normally and that it remains on its expected trajectory," NASA wrote.
This illustration shows the positions of NASA’s Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 probes outside the heliosphere, the region surrounding our star, beyond which interstellar space begins. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
Initiated in 1977, the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft mission commenced subsequent to their separate launches from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This strategic timing leveraged a rare 176-year alignment of planets, enabling an unprecedented grand tour of all four massive outer planets.
Before the temporary interruption in communication with NASA, Voyager 1 and 2 routinely transmitted several hours' worth of data each day. Notably, the Voyager 2 probe continues to function with five operational instruments, each consuming a mere 4 watts of power annually.
Having journeyed through the cosmos, Voyager 2 successfully explored Uranus and Neptune before venturing beyond the heliosphere in 2018. This heliosphere, defined as the shield of solar wind encasing our solar system, marked the boundary of its passage.